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Northeast fishing

An afternoon chasing the blues

Tips on hooking bluefish, from the best locations to several tried and true methods

An afternoon chasing the blues

Tips on hooking bluefish, from the best locations to several tried and true methods

Bluefish — “Hah, they’re a cinch to catch” — or so you hear all the time along the dock, or seated in a watering hole where boating and fishing are Topics A and B.

If that’s the case, how come you can’t succeed in spite of being a reasonably intelligent person with a seaworthy boat at your disposal? You may not have the all-out fish machine like the fellow three pilings down at Pier C, but you should be able to at least land one or two for supper. What, then, can be done to change the situation?

A first option might be to wangle an invite with someone who usually comes in with a full cooler. You might have to swallow your pride, but such trips are often worth their weight in dollars lost to trial and error. How much has already been spent in a losing battle trying to locate Mr. Bluefish?

You might also consider a charter with a pro; larger dollars than chipping in for gas, but it’s often a great classroom — not to mention coming home with the bacon for a change.

One of the easiest techniques for a beginner to master is chunking, a method that gets it nickname from cutting chunks out of frozen baitfish like bunker, mackerel or herring, all sold in plastic bags in shoreline bait shops. The same shops offer pre-made rigs and sinkers for this type of fishing. And, if you buy on a weekday, the fellow behind the counter may have time for some instruction — not only how to hook the bait but the all-important where. Basically, chunking is usually done from a boat anchored just outside a rocky point, a jetty front or near an underwater hump — spots game fish prowl in their daily search for food.

After the boat is situated, one or more rods are lowered with baited hooks, then the rods are put in holders with reel in free spool and the clicker on. When a fish grabs the bait the clicker sounds off, alerting you to a visitor. Pick up the rod; give the fish a bit of line to ensure the bait is fully in its mouth, then set the hook with an upward jab of the rod. Don’t try a Barry Bonds-type swing; just a jab will do ya’.

One of the many secrets to chunking is to buy an extra pack or two of bait and cut those into very small pieces. At steady intervals drop the pieces over the side, letting them go down-current, drawing any fish in the vicinity to the hook baits. Make it a point to change the bait after 20 minutes in the water. Fresher bait with its scent always catches better. As the tide increases you may also have to change to a heavier sinker or switch spots to one in shallower water that lets you hold bottom during the strength of the tide.

I always see folks anchored in family-style boats hold up a blue or striper compliments of a chunk bait sitting on the bottom. You might also catch a fluke, possibly a large porgy or maybe a sea bass along with unwanted sand sharks, the bane of the bait fisherman.

Another method to consider is diamond jigging, those lures sold in the same shop where you buy bait. This method is also simple: drop a 2- to 8-ounce jig to the bottom, crank it fast about a third of the way to the top. If you don’t get a hit, take the reel out of gear and repeat the procedure until you get some fish or you drift away from the fish. Diamond jigging is very popular on the offshore lumps off New Jersey, in the Montauk rips, the many reefs and rock piles in Long Island Sound, including the famous Race off New London, Conn., and farther up the coast. I’ve often jigged a mix of bluefish, cod, stripers and pollock in the south end of the Nantucket Rips, but those trips are beyond the range of a family cruiser on a day outing. Many times if you encounter birds wheeling and diving on the surface in deeper water, a diamond jig dropped under all the squawking gulls provides bluefish aplenty.

If you find blues chasing bait on the surface some frosty morning in the fall, just outside the inlet, you’ve got a great opportunity to catch them with spinning tackle and popping plugs. A popping plug is a piece of wood or plastic with a concave head that throws water when “popped” across the top with sweeps of the rod. In the melee, old kids turn into their younger selves, often in a rush to get the plug back into the water and catch another fish. Little ones delight at watching the surface splashes as the fish chase helpless baitfish. Just make sure they don’t hook any one in the boat — or themselves — after landing their first couple.

Casting for blues is sometimes best later in the year but you can find the fish on top after bait at any time. Those who treasure being on the water at first light are often treated to an hour or two of early-morning casting before the fish head deep for the day, often feeding on the top again just before dark. Once they go deep, they often respond to diamond jigs or chunk bait on the bottom. There are, however, spots like Race Rock Lighthouse or Nantucket Sound where swirling rips present an opportunity to cast for bluefish or bass any hour of the day.

Several other methods such as wire-line trolling are productive for blue fishing, but they take more time to master than you may have at your disposal. Many a prospective weekend angler threw up his hands after continually flubbing up with springy wire line, sometimes dumping the whole mess in a shore-side dumpster, heading off to the golf course. Many never to return to the world of fishing.

Try the three previous methods and see if your scores don’t improve after soaking up as much local knowledge as you can along the dock or tackle shop. A tip or two from one of the local pros can save countless headaches. Listen to what the knowledgeable ones have to say and try your hand at one of these simple techniques.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.